[NOTE: Cornucopia is a working member of the coalition opposing the implementation of the Organic Trade Association’s organic checkoff scheme.]
The No Organic Checkoff Coalition, representing 755 signatories opposed to an organic checkoff, including 25 organic farmer organizations and businesses, submitted a letter on June 8, 2016 to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS). Their letter responds to the recently revised Organic Trade Association (OTA) Proposal submitted May 3, 2016 and calls for AMS to reject the OTA proposal. The revised OTA proposal discusses ideas for a new industry-funded promotion, research and information order for organic products, which would be developed under the Commodity Promotion, Research, and Information Act of 1996.
The No Organic Checkoff Coalition does not think a mandatory federal organic checkoff is the correct vehicle to address the obvious need for organic marketing and research. The US demand for organic products far outweighs domestic organic supply and the coalition has not seen any convincing evidence that the checkoff program would support increased domestic organic production, which is one of the major concerns as organic imports are on the rise. John Bobbe, Executive Director of the Organic Farmers Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM) comments, “USDA ERS data shows that 70% of organic soybeans and 40% of organic corn are imported. This foreign competition has caused the pay price offered to U.S. organic farmers to drop. Until domestic supply can catch up with the demand, the OTA Checkoff could actually result in more imports. Cheap imports will hurt American farmers and discourage more US acres to transition to organic production.” While the coalition’s farmer members believe in the importance of organic research and promotion in helping to secure a stable and vibrant future for organic agriculture in the US, a USDA Generic Research and Promotion Order for Organic is not their vehicle of choice. There are other strategies that have been proposed and ignored by OTA.
The coalition’s letter delineates issues in the OTA proposal where there is widespread disagreement within the wider organic community that would create conflict if implemented and which has led to a substantial lack of support for a mandatory checkoff proposal. OTA’s proposed checkoff would be complicated to administer, is inequitable across commodities, and cannot accurately estimate the potential revenue to justify the administrative burden on farmers. Although many organic producers agree that there is a need for more organic research, clarity of food labels, and organic technical assistance for transition, they don’t see a new federal checkoff as an appropriate way to address that need.
The proposed mandatory organic checkoff would generate a limited pot of money from dozens of very different commodities within the organic community. Competing demands for the money would inevitably set farmer against farmer, further complicating the administration of the program and overshadowing any good the checkoff intended to achieve. OTA’s proposals have already caused much emotion and conflict within the organic community. There is not industry support for a federal mandatory organic checkoff and the coalition encourages the AMS to listen to the organic farming community and reject the proposal. A mandatory federal organic checkoff is not the right fit for the organic community and for AMS to take it to a referendum would be a disservice to the organic industry.
The No Organic Checkoff Coalition was organized specifically to SUPPORT the FAIR Act that exempts organic farmers from conventional checkoff programs and to OPPOSE the creation of a new federal organic checkoff program. Together this coalition represents more than 6,000 organic farmers from the Western, Midwestern, and Eastern United States.